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Edward Vivien Harvey Keane (1844–1904)

by Kim Roberts

This article was published:

Edward Vivien Harvey Keane (1844-1904), civil engineer, was born on 8 August 1844 at Birkenhead, Cheshire, England, son of Captain Edward Keane, R.N.; he was related to the family of John Keane who was elevated to the peerage in 1839 for his services in Ghuznee, India. Educated at Christ's Hospital and privately, he was apprenticed to the railway contractors, William Dargan, Peto & Betts, and Lucas Brothers, and became a civil engineer. In 1876 he went to Melbourne but soon moved to South Australia where he worked as an engineer. As E. Keane & Co., railway contractors, he built many culverts, an engine shed at Naracoorte, reservoirs at Terowie and Orroroo, the 5 ft 3 ins (1.6 m) line to Holdfast Bay and part of the 3 ft 6 ins (1.1 m) line from Terowie to Pichi Richi. On 27 May 1879 he married Lilla Rebecca Wharton, daughter of Abraham White of Kapunda.

In 1882 the Keanes moved to Western Australia. Edward set up as a builder in Perth and made many influential friends, including John and Alexander Forrest. He also built several railways and in February 1886 won the contract for the first forty miles (64 km) of the Midland Land Grant Railway Co.'s lines to be completed with rolling stock and other appliances in four years at an estimated cost of £1 million. The company failed to raise finance in London and Keane agreed to work at his own expense and accept part payment in land and company shares. He had lately finished a building at Fremantle for the National Bank and its manager gave Keane an overdraft of £20,000 which soon rose to £85,000. In 1888 he went to London where the company had called for debentures; despite their small success Keane borrowed £150,000 on their security. The bank recovered the overdraft which had enabled Keane to complete his contract but he was now burdened by his borrowing which he could not repay. With some government support but much strife and difficulty the railway was finished in eight years, and in 1895 his courage was rewarded with 80,000 acres (32,375 ha) and appointment as general manager of the Midland Railway Co.

Keane represented Geraldton in the Legislative Council from December 1886 to January 1889 and then Perth until December 1890. He was then elected for Perth to the new Legislative Assembly until December 1891 and was returned for Eastern Province to the council in May-June 1904. As a politician he was blunt and forthright, opposing the concentration of railways in the central districts and supporting free trade and Federation. He had been elected unopposed as mayor of Perth in 1891, but railway problems soon led to his resignation and he was given many glowing testimonials. Among his diverse interests he was a justice of the peace and a local director of the South British Insurance Co. He also built the Perth Cathedral and the Fremantle Town Hall, in 1888 equipped the first party to go to the Yilgarn goldfields and later had a grazing property in the Eastern Districts where he imported well-bred stock. Laid low by pneumonia and a heart attack in an election campaign Keane died on 9 July 1904, survived by his wife and four of his five children. At his funeral flags in Perth were flown at half-mast. His large home, Cappoquon House, Keane's Point, Peppermint Grove, and its garden was a district show-piece. It was used as a rehabilitation centre for returned servicemen in World War I and later became the headquarters of the Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Kimberly, History of West Australia (Melb, 1897)
  • G. Blainey, Gold and Paper: A History of the National Bank of Australasia Limited (Melb, 1958)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Western Australia) 1886-91
  • Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth), 19 Jan 1887
  • Possum (Perth), 22 Oct 1887
  • Australian Advertiser, 2 July 1890
  • West Australian, 31 Jan 1891, 8, 11 July 1904
  • Morning Herald (Perth), 11 July 1904
  • Perth City Council, Minute book 6.

Citation details

Kim Roberts, 'Keane, Edward Vivien Harvey (1844–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 1 March 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


8 August, 1844
Birkenhead, Cheshire, England


9 July, 1904 (aged 59)
West Perth, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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